Tonight, we’re here to celebrate Harry Brearley’s achievements and the industry he revolutionised: steel. And to commit ourselves to the future success of the people and industries of Sheffield, Yorkshire and Humber.
I’m here not only as the Deputy Prime Minister and a local Sheffield MP, but also an enthusiastic customer of the Ecclesall Road Sheffield Steel Shop. When I’m on foreign visits, it’s a rite of passage for members of my team to travel with a pewter bowl stuffed in their bag to present to local dignitaries. I hesitate to call myself the shop’s most frequent customer, but they have offered me a loyalty card.
Sheffield was built by steel for steel. More than a job, steel was a way of life here. Its importance ingrained in the bricks of the workers’ terraces; its mills dominating the city’s skyline; and every generation following the last into the works: the steel they made sold around the world.
Asked what made a good steel man, Harry argued that “brainy distinction between good and ill”. We can still see that drive in Sheffield’s entrepreneurs today as they work to grow, export and create jobs in high-value sectors: advanced manufacturing, healthcare, bio-medical technologies, digital media, the creative industries and so on.
You could argue that, as a Sheffield MP, I’m biased. But what I know of this city and its people is what makes me so optimistic about Britain’s future.
It, perhaps, feels counterintuitive to argue that a powerhouse of the last industrial revolution could help drive the next. But tonight I want to talk about how Sheffield, and Britain’s other cities, can realise their global ambitions by drawing on their great industrial traditions. It’s about giving cities like this the freedom and power back to unleash the enterprise and drive that made them so great in the past.
Memories of the failures of the 1970s’ ‘picking winners’ industrial policy run deep in Whitehall.
Through the 80s and part of the 90s that led to a policy of managed decline: government felt it had to be passive towards industry, rather than active. It took a laissez faire approach: with our great industries left to sink or swim.
That started to change under the previous government: they were more ambitious for our cities. Peter Mandelson in particular started to have a longer term view of our industrial needs. But they still didn’t go far enough to really let our great cities stand on their own two feet. The approach remained lop-sided and did not provide substantive long-term industrial strategies to many of our industries.
National growth was driven by one city: London, and one sector: financial services. Square mile tax receipts were recycled and redistributed to other parts of the country through the long arm of the state, in turn, providing an illusion of sustainable growth in places like South Yorkshire where public sector employment increased dramatically.
But it was an increase which could no longer be sustained when the tax receipts from the City down south dried up in the crash of 2008. Worse still, some places become so dependent on these transfers from Whitehall during the boom years that they neglected to diversify their own local economies.
Instead of helping our cities to become more economically self-sufficient, instead of helping tap their potential as engines of this nation’s prosperity, they presumed we could all live off London’s financial services forever.
And that imbalance in our economy - that dependency and wasted potential in our cities - meant that when the 2008 crash came, we took a bigger fall and we found it harder to pick ourselves up.
So we need to rebalance our economy: drawing on the strengths and talents of our cities and industries.
In Sheffield alone, we already employ 95,000 people in advanced manufacturing, contributing £3.5 billion to our national wealth. We must now magnify and replicate that success.
There are three ingredients to that: our people; our know-how and our long-term vision for growth - shifting our sights to the horizon.
First, our ambitions start and end with our people. No one proves that more than Harry Brearley. And a British workforce - with the imagination to innovate; the determination to progress; and the expertise to produce quality goods and services the world wants to buy - is a world-beating combination.
Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, cities like Sheffield drove the industrial revolution that shot Britain to global pre-eminence. By taking decisions themselves, they governed their own fate. Yet, despite that heritage, for too long these cities haven’t been allowed to innovate, haven’t been free to make their own luck. They’ve had to go cap in hand to Whitehall, which has jealously guarded whatever power it has.
That has to end. Whitehall has to give that power back.
This is what our City Deals are all about: giving our great cities back the freedom to manage investment, make sure they get the skills they need and guide their own transport and infrastructure. Together, the first eight deals will create an estimated 175,000 new jobs and we’re already putting more deals in place.
It simply cannot be right that so many businesses tell us that they can’t fill the vacancies they have, because the talented people that apply don’t have the right skills for that job.
Sheffield’s City Deal gives the city the power back to manage its own £72 million skills budget and develops new ways for local councils, colleges and businesses to work together. That will create thousands of new apprenticeships in growing local businesses and retrain thousands of people, who are finding it hard to bridge the gap - whether in engineering, or IT, or management - between the skills they have and those businesses want.
And just today, we got figures that show our fight together against unemployment is working. Thousands more people in this region have gone back to work in the last three months, with more private sectors jobs being created across the country.
And through the Youth Contract, we’ve also seen the number of young people in this city claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance fall dramatically over the last year. Because, they’ve had that extra training, support and advice.
Second: the know-how. Only a few weeks ago, I was stood on site watching Sheffield’s new University Technical College - one of the first of its kind in Britain - being built. That college - in the heart of Sheffield’s creative and digital quarter, close to Sheffield Hallam University - reflects one of this city’s greatest strengths: the synergy between our old and new industries and world-leading universities.
On our doorstep, we have the University of Sheffield with its world-class reputation for engineering and Sheffield Hallam, one of the UK’s most innovative universities - internationally recognised for its facilities.
Down the road, it’s a competitive advantage we’re exploiting at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. This type of work – with the public and private sector working together - to fund research in high-tech growth areas is something that’s happened in Germany for years, through its cutting-edge Fraunhofer research organisation. And I know it’s an approach that UK businesses have been demanding from government for decades.
Now we have that focus here. And the ambition of the engineers, researchers and apprentices working at the centre - some of whom are here tonight - is to create an unrivalled global centre of research excellence. That’s why I’m proud to see £10 million of public investment contribute to Sheffield University’s £43 million plan to create the world’s most advanced research factory.
This facility will boost our competitive edge in advanced manufacturing for decades to come. And by protecting budgets for education and research in related areas, we’re ensuring we have the people with the know-how in science, technology, engineering and maths to drive work like this across Britain.
It’s that creativity, expertise and genius that make the ‘Made in Sheffield’ brand such a mark of quality. It’s a standard of excellence that sets Sheffield apart and puts it ahead. And I’m determined that Sheffield’s special status should be protected.
The long-term vision
Businesses need certainty to sustain excellence, invest and create jobs - certainty that in the past, governments have been reluctant to give them: embarrassed, perhaps, by the state’s previous failed attempts to pick winners.
This led to inconsistent polices that - as Tony argued in his Cutlers’ Feast speech in May - contributed, alongside more long-term global pressures, to a decline in manufacturing’s share of UK GDP since the 1980s.
Our long-term industrial strategy, launched last year, doesn’t pick winners. But it does give you the certainty and consistency you need. It sets out our plans to help businesses across high-growth sectors boost investment, strengthen partnerships, improve skills and maximise opportunities like public sector procurement.
It’s backed by our £33 billion a year commitment to invest in infrastructure, including modernising the transport, energy and digital networks that connect and support our cities. That’s a bigger investment and a bigger commitment to our regions, than the previous government ever made, even before we start High-Speed 2.
Take transport. In the future, you’ll be able to catch a HS2 train from an upgraded Meadowhall station that will get you to London in just over an hour and Leeds in less than 30 minutes.
Across the region, you’ll be using quicker, more efficient and sustainable public transport - with the electrification of the Midland Mainline, Northern hub rail modernisation, revolutionary Tram Train Network and improved bus routes and rolling stock.
We want to ensure that businesses can gain the maximum possible benefit from investments like this. Development of the infrastructure of the future is a necessary precondition for long-term growth here and across the country.
Local Growth Committee
What I’ve realised is that if you want to give more power back locally - such as the freedom to drive local enterprise, more power to retain business rates and generate investment - you’ve also got to change what happens at the centre. We need to break down the silos that exist in Whitehall, with the right hand not talking to the left hand.
You can’t devolve responsibilities to local economies, without giving them real control and the tools to use it. Take a project to kick start local business growth, where a Local Enterprise Partnership might have plans for some big commercial development. At the moment, they can’t just talk to one person in Whitehall to get that first hole dug.
They’ve got to talk to the Department of Communities and Local Government about planning. Check with the Department of Transport that local roads will be accessible. And the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to ensure there’ll be broadband businesses can use. That’s even before they’ve met with the Department for Business or UKTI to discuss potential support for the businesses themselves.
That’s why I’m a chairing a new committee, working with the Chancellor, that will knock down these walls and bring all these departments together. So that where there’s an opportunity locally, you can rely on us centrally to deliver what we’ve promised. And change once and for all the Whitehall culture that says devolution is good, as long as it’s not my department you’re talking about: with faster decisions, a joined-up conversation about local growth and even greater ambitions to hand power back.
Working together we’re stronger – locally and nationally.
Conclusion: made in Sheffield
Harry Brearley was as much a product of Sheffield as the stainless steel he created. His determination to succeed and commitment to realise his city’s global ambitions is what lives on here: no matter how much times, or industries, change. In Sheffield, and across Britain, its time to recognise our strengths, create jobs and make the most of our people and our know-how to realise our vision for a stronger economy and a fairer society.